The founders of the United States envisioned a federal government that was constrained by a written Constitution, which further diluted power within that government into four competing branches. Those branches were the two houses of Congress, which were clearly supposed to be dominant in the federal sphere, and the executive and the judiciary. Unfortunately, over the more than two-and-a-third centuries of U.S. history, that’s not how it’s turned out. And the NSA spying scandal, more than anything else, shows that the founders’ original system has gone badly off the rails.
The founders’ idea of constraining government by a written Constitution and a system of checks and balances among the disparate branches was a good one. The system has probably slowed government encroachment on individual rights more than any other governmental system in the world. Yet constitutions and checks and balances are only parchment barriers to tyranny if the underlying political culture becomes broken. And the NSA spying scandal seems to indicate that it may have become so.
We have moved from the George W. Bush administration, which conducted an illegal and unconstitutional program of NSA spying on Americans, to the Obama administration, which is conducting a legal but unconstitutional NSA snooping effort. This change may seem to be at least an improvement, but it’s not.
When Congress discovered that the Bush administration was flouting the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance (FISA) Court and thereby not getting warrants to spy on Americans, it was outraged. In fact, Congress was so outraged that it widened that administration’s ability under law to do warrantless wiretapping!
- NSA Spying Scandal May Indicate U.S. Checks and Balances System Is Broken (huffingtonpost.com)